10 questions to ask a new client
A good relationship between advisor and client is based on mutual understanding, respect and openness. But sometimes your clients don’t communicate all the important details that you need to know to create their ideal personal financial plan.
Here we look at some of the most important, tried and tested questions that advisors use to reveal the things that matter to new clients — the first steps towards achieving their goals.
How are things going?
It might sound very general, but it’s a good place to begin.
Asking about events in their life and how they’re feeling can reveal a client’s response to changing circumstances, risk, stress or opportunity.
This information can help you fine-tune a portfolio with the right balance of risk, flexibility and security.
What’s most important in life at the moment?
This is a question that goes to the heart of what matters. It helps you assess where and how you can help.
It’s an invitation to be frank and honest — and share things that might not come up when you ask more prescriptive, specific financial questions.
This is about people rather than portfolios.
What are your biggest money worries, and how do you think I can solve them with you?
Here’s another fundamental, general question. It’s about identifying financial objectives and drivers in the broadest sense, but also about establishing trust and clarity and realistic expectations from the start.
Build a direct and honest rapport here to show that you’re on your client’s side and aiming to make their life better.
Do your finances reflect your goals in life?
You’re asking clients to think about the small stuff here — not just the broad brushstrokes.
Details can make all the difference and you don’t want to miss the vital ones. By asking people to look at what they’ve got, you can tease out any individual elements that need to be addressed and make sure they really understand what their plans reflect.
Addressing details will help ensure that the whole plan is on course long term.
How far away are you from your financial goals?
Here you can assess whether your client is focusing on more distant goals over a long timeframe, or whether there’s a sense of urgency.
You can explore their perspective on life, savings and investments. Are they concerned about making up for lost time or beginning a long strategic game? Do they have a specific major saving objective or an underlying worry about retirement income?
By teasing out fundamental motivations, this question helps to shape the nature of your advice and the solutions you provide.
How will you measure the success of your investment portfolio?
There are usually benchmark returns for a client’s portfolio, and by asking this question you can clarify and manage expectations.
For example, if they’re confidently expecting ten per cent returns year on year, you may need to explain how, historically, markets rise and fall, so such consistency is unrealistic.
Again, this is about establishing ground rules from day one and being straightforward, even if the advice you’re giving is cautionary.
It will help to avoid frustration or disappointment in the future.
What would make you think our relationship was failing?
Related to the last question, this is about measuring and managing expectation. It’s about establishing exactly where the failure point might be.
Your clients will generally understand that targets can sometimes be missed, but problems can arise if the issue is worse than anticipated.
If you have a frank discussion about what they would regard as failure (as opposed to simply a dip in performance) you can avoid frustration and resentment building up, and ultimately retain a more resilient relationship.
What worries you about retirement?
By exploring your client’s concerns about retirement — and investing in general — you can build a balanced portfolio that is properly tailored to their needs.
It’s common for people to worry about outliving their savings for example, so in this instance you would introduce savings and investment ideas that provided a lifetime income, such as fixed indexed annuities.
Do your beneficiaries know about your latest plans?
It’s surprising how often otherwise well-organized people forget to keep their beneficiaries informed about the status of their estate and investments.
Life gets in the way, divorces happen, individuals pass away and records become sketchier.
So, it makes a lot of sense to ask this question of a new client and ask it regularly as the relationship evolves — say every six months.
It also gives you an opportunity to find out if your client’s goals have shifted since you last spoke.
…And what else?
Here’s a follow up question that can be very revealing. Once a client has finished answering a more specific inquiry, asking “and what else?” can encourage them to be more insightful or honest.
Initial answers can often be very top line, so if you can prompt clients to go below the surface of their first response and tell you more, then all the better.
This kind of gentle prompting is particularly useful if you’re exploring quite emotive topics that can make people a bit reticent.
At heart, this question is keeping the conversational momentum going and allowing you to listen to your client with minimal interruption.
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.